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November 8-14, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Quakes: The Next Generation

By Gary Singh

THE ORIGINAL San Jose Earthquakes of the old North American Soccer League played their first home game on May 11, 1974. In the program for that match, San Jose Mercury and News journalist Fred Guzman, who would later heavily chronicle the team, wrote this line: "Sure, you can sell soccer in San Jose ... It just takes some getting used to."

The inside front cover of that same program features Guzman in a decidedly fashionable '70s shirt with the headline in bold print: "Earthquakes Are Good For San Jose." And the rest that followed bears repeating in full: "Win, lose or draw, the San Jose Earthquakes are good for our town because of their efforts in working with youngsters. And because the Mercury and News believe what is good for San Jose is worth reporting in depth, sports writer Fred Guzman will follow the Earthquakes through kicking, heading and high water. Guzman and the Earthquakes—both are good for sports and San Jose."

Unfortunately, that league collapsed 10 years later ,and we didn't have a serious national league again until 1996. And the new version of the Quakes, who won two championships in three years, was ruthlessly shipped off to Texas last year. I'm only now barking about this again because the Oakland A's purchased an option to bring the Quakes back and the grand opening of the new Oakland A's/Earthquakes office is today at 4:30pm. It's located in the Fairmont Hotel.

The memories of San Jose Earthquakes games are endless, especially during the old days. Pele came here twice with the New York Cosmos and the Quakes won both times. And there's more: The bench-clearing brawl vs. the Dallas Tornado in 1980; Krazy George coming down onto the field in a helicopter, a camel, a hang glider or a police car; the heartbreaking loss to Toronto in the 1983 semifinals after going undefeated all season at home; Bernie Gersdorff picking up the ref's yellow card after he had dropped it and then carding the ref; the Taylor Concessions company, who provided 32-ounce Spartan Stadium beers in paper Budweiser cups; the Aftershocks booster parties at Lou's Village; Vancouver player Willy Johnston taking a drink from a fan's beer before blasting a corner kick that led to a goal; and, of course, the Shakers, who were the cheerleaders.

And then there's George Best, one of the best players ever, who died a year ago this month. You can say all the bad things you want about him, but he scored the best goal of his career right here in San Jose. That was 1981 and I can fondly recall that I was there.

Sports, especially soccer, is about tradition. This is why many soccer teams' logos around the world include the years the teams were founded. Spartan Stadium was part of the Earthquakes tradition, and despite all its shortcomings, Spartan was a spectacular place to watch the Quakes because the fans were in extremely close proximity to the field, enabling them to inflict spirited ridicule on the opposing players and the referees. As recently as last year, the now former Quakes and the Los Angeles Galaxy exhibited the most bitter, acidic rivalry in the entire league. It was pure unabashed hatred. In all honesty, I freakin' miss it and the L.A. fans do too. You can ask anyone.

In a completely separate endeavor, Oakland A's kingpin Lew Wolff has said he envisions a new A's facility where "the function is letting fans watch the ball players play as close to them, as close to the action as possible." Well, that's precisely what made Spartan and the Earthquakes unique, so I hope he's on the right track with the soccer effort as well. Let us hope that Wolff can reestablish the San Jose Earthquakes tradition and bring it back for good. I don't care where they put the stadium—just get the thing done, for crying out loud. And loan me the money to open up my own restaurant across the street. I'll call it the Epicenter and that program from the first game in 1974 will be on the wall.

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